Dear Readers: We’re now in the mid-January, and do you know what that means? For a lot of us, it means our New Year’s resolutions are already a thing of the past. It isn’t that we’re not committed to positive change. It’s just that often we’re not clear about how to achieve it. Especially if resolutions are general—sure, we all want to lose weight or save more money, but it can be hard to follow through.
So what’s the answer? First, when it comes to your finances, get specific about what you really want to accomplish. For instance, how much do you want to save each month? What bills do you want to pay off first? The second essential part of success is making a plan and then sticking with it. The following financial hacks are designed to help make it easy to stay on track. These are seven simple things you can set in motion now that can keep you going in the right direction all year long:
- Set up automatic deductions from checking to savings. If you’re contributing to a 401(k), you know how easy it is to adjust to an automatic deduction from your paycheck. So why not do the same for your other savings goals? Whether you’re saving for a house, a child’s college, or building a vacation fund, automatic deductions from checking to savings will add up without you having to think too much about it.
- Amp up your retirement savings. It’s great to stash away money in your retirement account every month, but are you saving enough? If you’re over 25 and saving less than 10 percent of your salary, you should consider increasing the percentage. Expecting a bonus? Send the bulk of it to savings.
- Create a calendar. Don’t risk incurring a penalty by missing a due date. Put all important financial dates on your calendar, such as estimated taxes, property taxes, and RMDs. Set up reminders a few days in advance of the due date.
- Put bills on auto pay. Avoid late fees by putting your recurring bills—mortgage payments, utilities, insurance premiums, phone, and internet—on automatic. Just be sure to check in periodically to make sure the proper amounts are being deducted.
- Build a cash cushion. Resolutions can quickly get off track when you’re faced with a financial emergency. As a buffer, you ideally want to have enough cash handy to cover three to six months’ essential expenses. Figure out how much you can afford to put toward your emergency fund each month and have that amount automatically deposited in a savings account especially earmarked for that purpose. When you reach your goal, you can put these savings toward something else.
- Invest like a pro … without the hassle. If you don’t have the time or expertise to monitor and rebalance your investments, consider using an automatic investment advisory service. Let the pros help build and manage your portfolio in keeping with your personal goals—minus the hassle.
- Make financial date night a regular event. A little moral support can go a long way. Set up a regular time to discuss your financial goals and realities with your spouse, partner, or a trusted friend to share tips and help each other stay on track. And be sure to celebrate your successes!
Making positive financial change isn’t a once-a-year event—it’s a constant commitment. To me, the best way to succeed is to make staying on top of your finances a healthy habit rather than a yearly challenge. I believe that if you put these seven things in motion now, handling your finances will become second nature. Then you won’t need to make annual resolutions—you’ll be on the path to lifelong success.
Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, a certified financial planner, is president of the Charles Schwab Foundation and author of “The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty.”